Why can’t we get along? As a nation we may be torn apart because we cannot answer this question. Along with our environmental tragedy, I believe this is the most pressing issue we are facing. It behooves all of us to contribute to fostering more civil relationships with people who are different from us. This blog series delves in the issues surrounding this question. I will be posting regularly, please follow the conversation. … Dr. Denise R. Ames
Why Can’t We Get Along?
Do you feel that the country is irretrievably divided along political and cultural lines? Are you feeling that there are so many different ways of interpreting the same events or information it can be overwhelming? Sometimes when another person voices an opinion on a controversial topic, such as gun control, you make think, “Is this person from another planet! Why do they think the way they do.” Do you have difficulty expressing yourself at a family get together because you are afraid you will offend someone?
Why does an experience or situation, such as building a wall between Mexico and the United States, elicit so many different responses? Proposals to demolish a decrepit building in the middle of a town can create a firestorm of reactions or the building of a Wal-Mart on the outskirts of town can raise the blood pressure of the entire community. Even harmless leash laws about constricting dogs from romping through the park can let loose a torrent of emotion. Obviously, there is more to understanding these differences than is seen at a superficial level. Our national narratives tell us a story about why we are not getting along.
Everyone loves a good story, and our nation is no exception. For many years we had a cohesive American narrative about “we the people” and where we were going as a nation called the American Dream. These national narratives are usually simplified and selective stories of the past, and not necessarily true. They are often an idealized vision or goal of the national future. Even though these national narratives are in part fabrications, they still influence citizens’ confidences, behaviors, and aspirations. Our national story is one of those intangibles that unite a disparate country like the United States.
The American Dream: A National Narrative
The American Dream is a national ethos, guiding beliefs or ideals that characterize the United States. This set of ideals includes democracy, human rights, liberty, opportunity and equality. Each American is instilled with freedom to pursue opportunity for prosperity and success through hard work with few barriers hindering that success. Upward social mobility is the reward for their hard work. The American Dream is rooted in the Declaration of Independence, which proclaims that “all men are created equal” with the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
The American Dream motivated many Americans to work hard and pursue material riches in the marketplace and to achieve a standard of living that met and even exceeded basic needs. It worked well for my aunt who grew up in poverty in the hills of Tennessee during the Great Depression without running water, electricity, or enough food. She married my uncle who worked for forty years in a factory in Rockford, Illinois, and they raised four children in a small house. She was proud of her house and she kept it immaculate. Although there continues to be poverty, very few Americans live as my aunt did many decades ago. She believed in the American Dream and it worked for her.
The American Dream is an implicit contract with all Americans in which each generation will make steady progress and become more prosperous than the previous one. The fruits of American society—a comfortable, middle class way of life—await those who “work hard and play by the rules,” according to former President Bill Clinton. But the promise of the American Dream has proven to be more difficult to attain for the current generation and has been disrupted as a unifying national narrative.
The blog series continues on Wednesday, December 5, 2018
Dr. Denise R. Ames is a long-time educator, grade 7-university, author of seven books, and president of an educational non-profit, Center for Global Awareness, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. CGA provides books, resources, and services with a holistic, global- focused, and perspective-taking approach for their three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, books and resources for educators and students grade 9-university; Gather, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a self-organizing study and conversation program for adults focusing on seeing different perspectives of pressing global issues; and their most recent program Turn, Transformative Understanding and Reflection Network, which encourages lifelong and transformative learning to help us arrive at a place of personal and global well-being using a seven “path” approach.